UQAM ‘landfill project’ tracks Nichoir gulls
Francois St-Pierre ignores the truggles of a young ring-billed gull as he bands the bird in preparation for its release near the Beauharnois dam Sunday morning.
by JULIE CADIEUX
HUDSON — Just like any other teenagers, the adolescent ring-billed gull chicks screamed, jostled and shoved — but when it came time to take flight to freedom, they had second thoughts about leaving the nest.
Their story begins June 1, when Montreal police called Le Nichoir’s staff to report finding over a hundred ring-billed gull chicks in a transport company’s parking lot. They may have been thrown off the roof; it’s still a mystery how they got there.
The SPCA transported 128 gull chicks to Le Nichoir, Hudson’s famous wildfowl rescue and rehabilitation centre, and later that day, Nichoir volunteers returned to the site and found 12 more — a total of 140 gulls that took over their operations for a month and necessitated a rush job to build a temporary aviary.
They matured quickly on a steady diet of frozen fish and attention and early last Sunday morning, a small team from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) arrived at the Nichoir to band, note and transport 90 of the 140 gulls. The remainder of the gulls will stay at Le Nichoir “a little longer, until they are bigger” explained Susan Wylie, Le Nichoir’s executive director.
The team from UQAM included professor Dr. Jean-François Giroux and six of his students, who are all pursuing studies in biology. As the team and Nichoir volunteers captured, caged and began banding the gulls, Giroux noted that because Le Nichoir gulls were well cared for and fed, they were larger than they would be in the wild.
“We usually go by wing size,” explained Giroux. However the team could not use their regular sample data and charts to determine the exact age of these gulls.
Once the messy and labour-intensive job of banding was done they loaded the birds into vehicles and drove 52 kilometres to the Beauharnois dam, located on the south shore of the the St. Lawrence river.
Giroux explained that banding is not only important for their own research. When they go to the site they can read the colour-coded numbered bands with their binoculars, so when bird watchers spot a marked ring-billed gull they can go to http://goeland.uqam.ca to report their sightings.
Ring-billed gulls start breeding around three years old and can live for 10-15 years and these guys will be heavily studied over the course of their lives. UQAM’s results will be used by Environment Canada to draft the first management plan for ring-billed gulls for BFI and Waste Management, two companies that own landfill sites and by Chamard et Associés, an environmental consulting firm often hired by municipalities to find solutions for reducing the nuisance created by gulls.
More than 80,000 pairs of Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) nest on four islands in the St. Lawrence near Montreal.
Le Nichoir volunteers expressed their gratitude to the community which responded after we reported on the 140 gull chicks and the need for help and funding to care for them. “The community came together,” explained Nichoir president Lindsay D’Aoust. “People who didn’t feel comfortable dropping off money asked how they could help and brought us fish to feed the gulls.” Others donated time and materials to build the exterior aviary.
The Nichoir are always looking for volunteers and donations, especially to help with plans to build a year round winterized aviary. They invite everyone to attend their annual open house this Saturday, July 16th, from 10-2. There will be tours given, children’s activities, bird banding demonstrations given by the McGill Bird Observatory and a BBQ lunch will also be available from 11 a.m. until 1:30 pm. For more information go to their website at http://www.lenichoir.org or call at 450-458-2809.
The Hudson St. Lazare Gazette – July 13, 2011 – Julie Cadieux